Purdue Develops Alloy For Commercially Viable Hydrogen Production
February 21, 2008 1:43 PM
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Jerry Woodall, a professor at Purdue University invented the new alloy production process, promising affordable, easy hydrogen.
(Source: Purdue University)
Pictures of the alloy in water, reacting to produce hydrogen, as evidenced by bubbling.
(Source: Purdue University)
The byproduct of the process is a recyclable mix of aluminum and gallium-indium-tin ores.
(Source: Purdue University)
Here a Purdue researcher uses the hydrogen produced by the process to power an internal combustion engine.
(Source: Purdue University)
While some hydrogen research focuses on simulating nature, a new metal reagent developed by Purdue University promises economic viability
Jerry Woodall, a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University, is firmly ground in the world of commercial production. When he began researching ways to improve hydrogen production using aluminum reagents, his goal was simple -- if it wasn't commercially viable, it wasn't a success.
While recent researchers have reported significant breakthroughs in fields such as
microbial hydrogen production
, these methods currently are too inefficient to currently be
feasible as a non-subsidized fuel alternative
. While these methods are exciting in that they may one day lead to cleaner and more effective energy production, many agree that
the time for hydrogen is now
, and waiting for theoretical methods is simply impractical.
Fortunately Purdue's Woodall
developed a more down to Earth method of hydrogen production
that promises a feasible infrastructure and short term commercial viability. Woodall states, "We now have an economically viable process for producing hydrogen on-demand for vehicles, electrical generating stations and other applications."
The key to the method is a new aluminum reagent, which Woodall invented. The new reagent is composed of 95 percent aluminum and then a critical 5 percent mixture of gallium, indium and tin to improve its reactive character. Previous similar alloys used far more gallium, which is very expensive. By cutting down the gallium, Woodall greatly reduced the costs of hydrogen production.
When the new alloy is exposed to water, it reacts to create hydrogen gas and oxygen. The oxygen then bonds to the aluminum to form aluminum oxide, also known as alumina. It is cheaper to recycle alumina back to aluminum than it is to refine aluminum from bauxite ore, which is another element contributing to its efficiency. Woodall illuminates, "After recycling both the aluminum oxide back to aluminum and the inert gallium-indium-tin alloy only 60 times, the cost of producing energy both as hydrogen and heat using the technology would be reduced to 10 cents per kilowatt hour, making it competitive with other energy technologies."
Control of the microscopic structure of the solid aluminum and the gallium-indium-tin alloy mixture is critical to the technology's success. The mixture is a "two-phase" mixture, meaning that it features abrupt changes in composition between one constituent to another. Woodall explains this challenge stating, "This is because the mixture tends to resist forming entirely as a homogeneous solid due to the different crystal structures of the elements in the alloy and the low melting point of the gallium-indium-tin alloy. I can form a one-phase melt of liquid aluminum and the gallium-indium-tin alloy by heating it. But when I cool it down, most of the gallium-indium-tin alloy is not homogeneously incorporated into the solid aluminum, but remains a separate phase of liquid. The constituents separate into two phases just like ice and liquid water."
Researchers had two options -- fast cooling to leave separate alloys or slow cooling to yield a single solid alloy brick. At first they tried fast cooling, which required a puddle of gallium-indium-tin to initiate the reaction. However, when they turned to the slow-cooled alloy, they were impressed to discover that it reacted just as well, or better, eliminating the need for the liquid gallium-indium-tin alloy. Woodall adds, "That was a fantastic discovery. What used to be a curiosity is now a real alternative energy technology."
The Purdue team is currently completing work on developing a production method to produce briquettes of the alloy. These briquettes could be dropped into a tank of water, producing pure hydrogen. This would eliminate both the need for hydrogen storage and hydrogen transportation, two critical obstacles for the hydrogen industry.
The gallium-indium-tin alloy in the process is inert and is able to be recovered with almost 100 percent efficiency. Woodall says even the less efficient aluminum recycling produces much less carbon emissions than traditional fuel. He states, "The aluminum oxide is recycled back into aluminum using the currently preferred industrial process called the Hall-Héroult process, which produces one-third as much carbon dioxide as combusting gasoline in an engine."
In order to fully realize the technology on a national scale for fuel use, alumina recycling infrastructure would need to be dramatically expanded. Additionally, gallium-indium-tin recycling would need to be added. This infrastructure would be expensive, but according to Woodall "the economic risk is large, but the potential payoff is also large."
Woodall won the 2001 National Medal of Technology, the highest award for technological achievement in the U.S. Woodall his fellow researchers will present their findings on Feb. 26, 2008 at the Materials Innovations in an Emerging Hydrogen Economy conference in Cocoa Beach, Fla. The alloy production process's primary patent title is owned by the Purdue Research Foundation. Purdue has licensed the technology to an Indiana startup company, AlGalCo LLC., which Purdue hopes will be the first company to implement the technology commercially.
Purdue's solution is similar to the University of Leeds'
new method of producing hydrogen from biofuel waste sludge
, in that both solutions are economically feasible, but require the development of production infrastructures. However the new method from Purdue can make hydrogen from a far more plentiful source -- pure water.
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2/22/2008 10:03:23 PM
Gallium, indium and tin are the catalyst (note [i]almost 100% recovered[/i]). Aluminium reacts but can be recovered easily as the article clearly states.
Once infrastructure is in place vehicle emissions (including water) are eliminated and fleet CO2 emissions drop by 66% (reprocessing makes 1/3 as much as petrol) or more while city air gets cleaner and 20th century smog becomes as quaint as London's legendary 'Pea-soup' smog. BTW cities are a great source of scrap aluminium.
The advantages are that the H2 is stored as water in the vehicle (safety) and the energy required is stored as a solid which is intrinsically easier to transport, store, handle and safer than H2 in a pressurised container and it would exist as H2 for a very short time before becoming water again in the engine/fuel-cell so leakage would be minimised. Also steam reformation of petro-chemicals [i]requires[/i] fossil fuels.
I very much doubt that this method of producing H2 is useful for anything but producing H2 at the point of use as in transportations ever changing point of use.
The aluminium requirement (13 tonnes for the world fleet) is not going to happen in a year given that the average car has a lifespan of more than twelve years it would probably take more like 50, look at how long it's taken Diesel's more efficient and flexible engine to gain consumer acceptance.
The material [i]available[/i] for recycling is far greater than the material [i]collected[/i] and recycled. e.g. did you recycle your stock cooler when you upgraded to a better one? So discounts for the cans/fuel could be given to customers who supply scrap aluminium. If the filling stations incorporate small spent fuel recycling stations then there is minimal 'material transportation cost' and it would be in their economic interest to ensure this is done well as it would be their product quality that would encourage repeat purchases. Possibly more of a cottage industry than the globally fixed cartel we have now. e.g. the more your city recycles it's aluminium the less it has to buy in, the cheaper the fuel.
What really strikes me with this is it's simplicity and sustainability. I hope it has a place in the hydrogen economy.
1kg H2 ~ 20 miles
9kg Al + 450g Catalyst = 1kg H2
10kg can ~ 20 miles
200kg ~ 400 miles
Weight of water can be ignored as it will be relatively constant if recycled from the exhaust. Cars fuelled like this would get heavier by absorbing oxygen from the air.
Power = 134BHP ~ 100kW
Weight = 1.625t
PWR = 100/1625 = 60kW/t
How heavy is the H2 tank and battery in Honda's Fuel-Cell car, it seems very heavy (and slow) for it's output and size?
"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher
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